The Vermont Public Service Board has ruled that the developers of a Swanton wind project will not be able to get a long-term price contract with Vermont utilities under an expired power purchase program. But despite that setback, the project developers plan to move forward.
In 2015, Swanton Wind asked the Public Service Board for approval of a long-term, stabilized contract with all of Vermont utilities, a year before it filed for the permits needed to start construction.
Green Mountain Power, with the support of other utilities, asked for that petition to be dismissed, because the power purchase rules had been amended. Ultimately, the board agreed, saying Swanton Wind could apply for contracts under the current rule.
Swanton Wind’s Anthony Iarrapino says the developers preference remains to sell the power to Vermont utilities, but he says there is also demand for renewable energy in New England.
“The process we followed under the previous Public Service Board rule we thought was an efficient way to do that in a manner that would deliver price stability to Vermont electric utility customers over the long term,” he said. “So it was our preference but certainly not our only option.”
Green Mountain Power’s Kristin Carlson says the contract would have been based on out of date rates and would have been too costly for Vermont utility customers.
“The reason why there was this united front [of utilities in opposition] was that it could have cost customers in Vermont millions and millions of dollars over the life of the project. We think this is a good outcome for customers and follows Vermont law,” she said.
A separate case is moving forward at the Public Service Board for the permit, called a Certificate of Public Good, that Swanton Wind needs to begin construction. Utilities are still closely watching the case, and have moved to intervene.
“One of the things that GMP and the other utilities have focused on, and why we’ve intervened in this case, is to make sure that any project that happens whether this power is being sold in Vermont or out of state, is not causing more financial burden to our customers,” Carlson said.
A number of the project neighbors have also requested status to intervene in the case. As the filing deadline closed, the Vermont National Guard asked to join the case, citing concerns about the project’s impact on their flight maintenance area.
Iarrapino says the letter came as a surprise to Swanton Wind, because the Federal Aviation Administration has ruled that the project is not a hazard to air travel.
Vermont National Guard Captain Dyana Allen says the guard is concerned about low altitudes flights, potential obstructions and electromagnetic interference from the turbines.
“Those are some issues that our state aviation officer was looking at... This isn’t a matter of the National Guard saying that the FAA is wrong or anything like that," she said. "What we see is that there’s a potential risk and it’s our duty to make sure that we can alleviate all risk possible."
Iarrapino says Swanton Wind reached out to the Air National Guard early on in the project’s planning stages. And he says the developers respect the work of the National Guard, a separate organization. Iarrapino says the Swanton project won’t have a greater impact on aviation than the operating wind turbines at nearby Georgia Mountain.
Of bigger concern to Swanton Wind are new sound standards for wind projects under consideration at the Vermont Public Service Board.
“We’re concerned about the regulations in so far as that they go beyond anything that’s been proposed previously and certainly go far beyond what the science and the public health studies that have looked at wind turbines for decades have indicated as necessary to protect public health,” he said.
The technical hearings in the case are scheduled for the fall.